Dr. Susanne Nonekowski
Associate Lecturer at University of Toledo
Professional Member since 2012
“AWIS has shown me the power of community by providing unquestioning peer support and mentorship.”
What do you think is the most important attribute that enables a woman to successfully lead a community that supports
women in STEM?
Self-confidence. Women in STEM need to have the self-confidence to be at peace with who they are, and that includes their gender. I think women, and women in STEM especially, need to stop buying into the mindset that women who succeed do so by acting “more like their male counterparts,” the old “do as they do” or “fake it until you make it” approach. Accepting this mentality reinforces the subconscious message that women who are successful are successful in spite of being women. And while it is true that self-confidence, self-promotion, tenacity, and ambition are helpful traits, it does not mean that women need to suppress their “softer sides” in order to achieve their goals. I believe that women should be encouraged to embrace these skills. Most women can tell a story about a stubborn male in their lives who wandered around aimlessly, lost for hours because he was too pig-headed, too “manly” to ask for directions. We all nod wisely, safe in the knowledge that asking for and accepting help when needed is the smart thing to do, the “womanly” thing to do. So why shouldn’t we be encouraging each other to adopt this same approach when it comes to our STEM careers? Being a woman in STEM should not be viewed as a disadvantage—but as our greatest advantage.
What do you aspire to accomplish in your career and why?
My dad grew up very poor but loved learning and had a passion for science and medicine in particular. Through hard work and determination, he followed his dream and became a doctor of internal medicine. My mother supported the family while he was in medical school and then in residency. Throughout my childhood, my siblings and I were expected to work hard and be diligent in our studies. Like him, we all showed an aptitude for STEM fields, and both my parents strongly encouraged us to pursue our interests. My brothers and I were treated exactly the same, held to the same high standards, made to do the same household chores: dishes, laundry, garbage, yard work, car maintenance, you name it, we did it. My gender was never even a blip on the radar. Thus, I never questioned my place in STEM. Of course, women belonged in STEM careers: why wouldn’t they? Sure, there weren’t a lot of women in male-dominated STEM careers; but that was not because they didn’t belong there! It is this certainty that I would like to pass on to future generations. Anyone who wants to pursue a career in STEM should do so, bottom line. This is the tremendous gift that my parents gave to me, and I would like to pay it forward.
How has AWIS helped you professionally and/or personally?
AWIS has shown me the power of community and networking. Sadly too many women did not have the unquestioning support that I had. We can provide this for each other through associations like AWIS.